Blog - Grand Auctions

Chinese Ceramic Marks


Having a mark on a Chinese vase naturally enhances its appeal and can help to increase its market value. However, they can not be relied upon alone for determining the age as many Chinese objects were given earlier reign marks. What should primarily be considered when dating and valuing a Chinese ceramic object is the shape, style and quality of craftsmanship. The mark should in fact be the last determining factor as most have spurious marks which tend to act as a distraction. On the other hand when evaluating an object, it is essential to inspect the base first. Usually the quality of the mark will be reflected by the quality of the object.

Reign marks

Reign marks are generally applied within the unglazed foot rim, to the centre of the base formed as a square or framed within two concentric circles. They are usually painted using enamels in underglaze cobalt blue or overglaze iron red, as well as occasionally in black, gold or other colours. They can also be found with either impressed or incised seal character marks or raised in relief.

Seal script

There are two types of seal script which visually are very different. The most commonly used is the calligraphic seal script named Kaishu introduced in the Sui (589 - 618 C.E.) and Tang (618 - 907 C.E.) dynasties. The other of more angular form is Zhaunshu which was originally applied to ancient archaic bronze objects. These first appeared on Chinese ceramic objects as early as the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 C.E.) and continued with increasing popularity through to the Song dynasty (960 - 1279 C.E.).

Symbols replace reign marks

By the time of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644 B.C.E.), the application of marks was widespread. It was not until the Kangxi period (1662 - 1772 B.C.E.) that laws were enforced issuing a ban on reign marking non-Imprerial wares. Hence, it became common for pieces of this period to bear two concentric rings to the base sans reign mark. This also gave rise to symbols in place of reign marks which became very popular. These could vary in range from either an artemisia mugwort leaf or hare resembling longevity, a lotus leaf meaning continuous harmony or a lozenge mark for luck. However, it was not long before non-Imperial reign marks started to appear again during the mid Kangxi reign.

False marks

Due to a great demand in export wares in the 19th and 20th Century there was a tendency to apply false, apocryphal Qianlong dynasty (1736 - 1795 C.E.) marks on pieces as well as earlier Yongzheng (1723 - 1735 C.E.) and Kangxi period marks.However, the vast majority of Chinese export porcelain wares found widely in Europe and North America dating back to the 17th Century are surprisingly unmarked. This is simply because the marks bore a lack of significance to most people outside China.

If you have any Asian art that you would like to have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, Asian art specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.

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